GREY FOX, THE
(director/writer: Philip Borsos; screenwriter: John Hunter; cinematographer: Frank Tidy; editor: Frank Irvine; music: Michael Conway Baker; cast: Richard Farnsworth (Bill Miner), Jackie Burroughs (Kate Flynn), Wayne Robson (Shorty), Ken Pogue (Jack Budd), Timmothy Webber (Sergeant Fernie), David Petersen (Louis Colquhoun), Don Mackay (Al Sims); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Peter O’Brian; United Artists/A Kino Lorber (streaming) release; 1982-Canada)
“A Western classic.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Canadian documentary filmmaker Philip Borsos (“Bethune: The Making of a Hero”/”The Mean Season”), in his debut fictional feature film, wonderfully and poetically films it in a documentary style as an ode to the Old West and its passing, while writer John Hunter takes liberties with the true story that are outrageous but nevertheless work. Borsos died after making only four other films (stricken with leukemia in 1995, dying at age 41), with this being his only great one, a Western classic. It’s an indie made for under 3 million dollars and with a cast of unknowns who are just great.
Bill Miner (Richard Farnsworth, a stuntman for 30 years, in his first starring role), was nicknamed by the Pinkerton’s as the “Gentleman Bandit,” and is given credit for coming up with the phrase “Hands up!”.
He’s a man of 60 with a sweeping mustache, a twinkle in his blue eyes and a reputation as a polite hold-up man of stagecoaches. After spending a long stint of 30 years in San Quentin, he’s released in 1901 to a changed modern world he’s not familiar with. He tries living at first with his sister in Canada but doesn’t get along with her husband and picking oysters is not for him. He leaves her and becomes an aimless drifter the next few years in the West, but in 1903 he catches Edward S. Porter’s “The Great Train Robbery” movie playing in town — the 12 minute western that made motion picture history. The film speaks directly to Bill, telling him to get back into his old line of work but now robbing trains instead of stages.
Bill puts together a gang to hold-up a train in the state of Washington, and after botching it flees to British Columbia. Working at a factory, he partners with the dim but friendly Shorty Dunn (Wayne Robson). The boys end up in a Canadian mining town where the local hotel is run by Jack Budd (Ken Pouge), a former crime partner of Bill’s who is willing to help him if he helps run one of his mines. While there he has a fling with Kate Flynn (Jackie Burroughs), a feminist photographer from Chicago, who is there to document the changing times through her photography and hits it off with the charmer.
Bill is a decent sort even if an outlaw, who becomes a Robin Hood figure and a legendary one in Western Canada by robbing trains there in his old age –siding with the miners and making enemies of the greedy railroad tycoons.
Cinematographer Frank Tidy shot it in British Columbia, capturing its lush landscapes. Borsos kept it moving with a fast pace, that left no time for any dull moments. While Farnsworth gives it breath and shape in a brilliant likable natural character study performance that plays well with the film’s elegiac feel for the Old West.
REVIEWED ON 6/5/2020 GRADE: A